In partnership with Billboard and 1800 Tequila, Christian Scott and his band along with Vic Mensa create a new song and illuminate an old tension. 

Christian Scott and the Refined Players
Christian Scott and the Refined Players

Musicians have relied on sponsorships since medieval kings hired court jesters, so it didn’t seem strange when Christian Scott took the stage at Preservation Hall at an event sponsored by Billboard and 1800 Tequila. The 30-minute concert will be the capstone of the five-part digital documentary series titled Refined Players, which is available on 1800 Tequila’s website and social media outlets, as well as Billboard.com. 

Representatives from Billboard and 1800 Tequila advertised the show as Christian Scott's journey to discover diverse musicians from various cities. The series highlights these “refined players” and explores their background and roots in music. The press release of the documentary says that the collective met for the first time three days prior to the show at Preservation Hall, and rapper Vic Mensa joined them on their second day of filming and collaborated with the musicians to write a new track titled “Freedom is a Word.”

Scott has a classically cool element to his sound, and an aura that 1800 Tequila clearly wants associated with its product. Even his trumpet is personalized, bent and twisted to resemble his style of music, which he calls “stretch music,” Scott has covered bands such as Radiohead, and employs beats that borrow from electronic music, rock, and African music as much if not more than swing. He developed an app that allows people to hear, learn, and play along with his music, and that kind of accomplishment, ambition, and sophistication is clearly attractive to a brand like 1800 Tequila.

Bringing Vic Mensa into the project was a natural fit for Scott. When they played “Freedom is a Word” together at Preservation Hall, the moment was exciting, and Mensa rapped between solos from Scott and flautist Elena Pinderhughes. Pinderhughes in particular hypnotized the room with her masterful playing, turning the delicate tone of the flute into the most powerful sound in the room. Mensa is a talented rapper and his lyrics hit over the powerful band, but not nearly as hard as the band alone. He brought prestige to the project considering his commercial success, but given the performance, it was clear that the live band boosted Mensa’s performance with their sheer talent.

The concept seemed magical considering the synergy that the musicians had on stage. Elena Pinderhughes gazed suavely at drummer Joe Dyson as they riffed off each other, creating a colorful conversation. Bassist and decorated jazz musician Derrick Hodge played bass solos so dirty, you felt the need for a shower afterwards. Scott keeled over while blowing his trumpet in the air, resembling Cupid drawing his bow and arrow. 

According to Billboard, the series chronicles "the journey of Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah as he treks across the nation to assemble a cast of burgeoning Jazz talents from Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, the Bay Area, and New Orleans, in order to create a 'new, refined sound.'" The implication from the live performance was that Scott had done his job masterfully, finding players whose chemistry connected them on this profound level, and he did--just not within the confines of the series.

Pinderhughes and Dyson have played with Scott since his 2015 album Stretch Music. Weedie Braimah, drummer and New Orleans native, is featured on Scott's 2017 album, The Emancipation Procrastination. The concept of a documentary following musicians being discovered is compelling, but Scott has been leading most of these band members for a few years now, and their cohesive sound is a result of knowing each other and playing together for more than three days. What makes these musicians sound so exceptional together is the fact that they have practiced to find and build their own unique sounds, both alone and as a group.

Narrative glitches aside, Refined Players is beautifully shot with vibrant colors and fantastic images of New Orleans. Scott’s playing is highlighted particularly well, with the camera angled behind Scott’s head in order to see his perspective when playing. Scott uses this platform to talk about what is important to him, like the origins of jazz and New Orleans culture. But it is also clear that 1800 Tequila is using Scott’s image, interests, and music to brand the tequila as a specific, 2017 version of cool, with the final shot of the trailer being a bottle of tequila with Scott's trumpet sitting beside it.  

This branding technique is not unique, of course. Brands have been commodifying cool since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and capitalism had no other competitors. From Benson and Hedges jazz cigarettes early on to Snoop Dogg sponsoring blunt wraps, companies use musicians to brand their products in order to sell more than cigarettes, blunt wraps, or tequila. They are selling a lifestyle. 1800 Tequila’s motive at the Preservation Hall performance was clearly not to sell their product, but to brand it. When asked, the bartenders didn't know what was in the drinks they handed out. The tequila wasn't the star of the night; the music was. 

In the '80s, Scott, Mensa, and the musicians would have been called sell outs, but in today's music marketplace, that kind of labeling isn't so easy. In the first episode, Scott stays true to his message of breaking down genre and social barriers in music and life. He is not selling 1800 Tequila. He uses this platform to add to his body of work and spread his message to eliminate the things that confine us. What better way to loosen up and break down societal constraints than music and alcohol?